Kesgir and I stayed at Twinspur Haven for the night. Many of the Havens had simple accommodation for any travelers who were caught out and needed a safe place to stay. The Lionguard operated a small inn which, at full capacity, only housed 10 people, but now it was overflowing with refugees. In the end Kesgir and I had to share a room with another refugee family of four. It was less than comfortable for everyone.
The next morning we rose early, eager to escape the thundering snores of the elderly Norn whom we shared the room with. We ventured down to the mess and ordered a hot and hearty stew for breakfast. The families upstairs were less than enthusiastic to share their experiences, but as we sat down opposite to an asuran Lionguard, I discovered he was more than eager to share what he knew.
‘It’s strange you know. It’s probably just trauma, but a lot of the refugees are saying that it was charr who attacked them, then others say it was dredge.’
‘Charr and dredge?’ I murmured. ‘I’ve never heard of them in the Wayfarer Foothills before.’
‘That’s because they are not. It’s simply crazy to believe otherwise.’
There was an angry clatter of utensils from somewhere within the mess, but the asura didn’t even notice and continued nattering.
‘I think the trauma must of unhinged a few minds,’ the asura said dismissively. His cavalier attitude irritated me.
‘Norn minds do not simply unhinge pip-squeak,’ I growled.
‘Mark my words,’ the asura continued ignorantly. ‘It was probably just the earth’s cooled epidermis routinely displacing.’ He noticed my scowl and gave an exasperated sigh. ‘If I was to put it in your words, it was simply an earthquake.’
There was a forceful clatter as a table was suddenly flipped on it side, sending bowls and utensils everywhere. The next moment the asura was suddenly being hoisted into the air. A large norn, his beard grey and flecked with white was holding the asura by his cuff and shaking him as if he was a rag doll.
‘I fought the invaders face to face rat,’ the norn thundered over the asura’s squeaks of fear. ‘I fought them as they poured onto my homestead. A dredge reduced my homestead to rubble and a charr killed my brother,’ he roared so ferociously the asura’s ears flattened against his head. ‘I saw them with my own eyes, and felt their blood on my hands as I slaughtered them.’ He threw the asura back into his seat and stomped off. The tiny Lionguard just gripped his chair tightly and panted, either too scared or flabbergasted to speak.
Kesgir and I left the asura without another word. He had insulted the Norn’s honor and I had no sympathy or patience for the creature’s ignorance.
As we left the Haven and travelled north the sun peaked over the snow laced mountains. Kesgir’s eyes were firmly set on the horizon, a tense impatience in his features. As he marched in front of me I suddenly realized how young he was. Despite only being the size of a human male, he seemed proficient enough with a sword to defend himself. I had seen him practicing a few swings while we waited for the innkeeper to serve us. The steel weapon now hung at his hip, his hand firmly gripping the hilt.
‘Do you think you can lead us to your homestead from here?’ I asked, and he nodded in reply.
‘It is not far. I think we will reach it by this afternoon. Momma and I would walk to Twinspur Haven often to sell dolyak pelts to the Lionguard, so I know the path well.’
I merely nodded in reply, but Kesgir must have taken my silence as curiosity because he proceeded to tell me of his parents.
‘Father helps wrangle dolyak calfs. Sometimes the momma dolyak gets angry and he has to stop her from rampaging and destroying things. I once saw him slay a dolyak the size of a minotaur. We have its head hanging in our homestead. You could make a cup fit for Knut himself with the horns. Momma tans the hides and sells them to the Lionguard. Plus she can shoot a jackalope through the eye a valley away,’ he said, his features relaxing into a smile. ‘When you meet them you will see just how grand they are. Father will even make us his famous hare soup.’
My heart dropped as he spoke. He seemed to truly believe that his parents were still alive. What gave the boy such faith? I wondered if Engar could have been mistaken.
In the afternoon we diverged from the path and followed sparely spaced wooden markers that jutted out from the snow. Kesgir was getting nervous now. If he wasn’t gripping his sword, he was grinding his teeth or pulling frayed strands from his sleeve. His nerves were starting to affect me.
‘Calm yourself,’ I snapped, whirling around on him. The blood drained from his face, but his eyes were not focused on me. I turned to see a large mound of rubble in the distance, the debris of a homestead. Close by was the semi-snow-covered carcasses of a herd of dolyak.
Kesgir ran past me and threw himself into the rubble, frantically sorting through it. I walked around the mound surveying the scene. Some of the dolyak had been killed by fire, their charred corpses were crumbling in the strong Shiverpeaks winds, while other dolyaks showd no visible wounds. It was saddening to see these animals killed so senselessly, with no respect or reverence to their spirits.
I spied something sticking out of the ground and dusted it off. It was a large bow, and an almost empty quiver of arrows. The craftsmanship on the bow was exquisite. I called Kesgir and he approached me slowly, his eyes fixed on it.
‘It’s my momma’s,’ he said softly, accepting it from me.
I heard Kesgir hold his breath as I looked through the snow for the owner, but there was no-one in sight. Then I noticed something and knelt down.
‘Footsteps!’ Kesgir exclaimed.
‘They’re very recent,’ I said with a small frown.
‘They’re here!’ he cried, whirling around. ‘They must be looking for me!’
He ran a few paces in front of me as I tracked the footsteps. They clearly lead into the distance and Kesgir ran off after them, but I paused, my brow furrowing. I was not a ranger, and not gifted at the art of tracking, but I was starting to suspect these footsteps were not norn. I kelt down to inspect them closer when I noticed a lump in the snow. Gently I dusted the snow away and my heart stopped.
‘Georgie! Come on, the footsteps go this way!’ Kesgir yelled. When I didn’t reply he grew impatient and ran back to me, grabbing my arm.
‘Come on, Georgie!’
Then he saw her.
‘Mom…’ he murmured, dropping to his knees next to her shallow snow-laced tomb. Her eyes were still open and staring into the distance. Next to her was another mound, and with a heavy heart I dusted it off. A male norn stared back at us, his pale icy features resembled Kesgir.
‘Dad…’ Kesgir moaned, slumping onto his hands and knees.’No…. No!’ he screamed. The patter of tear drops against the cold snow could be heard between his wails. I had never seen a norn bawl like that, it seemed so human. Normally norn children are chided for such displays and I wondered if I should scold him, but then thought better of it. I wasn’t his mother, and as an orphan he’d have to learn to be strong soon enough. Instead I pulled back and left him to his grief. When he calmed we covered their graves and I helped Kesgir place markers. Kesgir didn’t utter another word, and I didn’t press him. As the curtain of dusk closed around us we we sat around a small campfire just beyond the rubble of the homestead. In all my experiences of death some one would now be telling grand tales of the dead’s exploits, but Kesgir just stared blankly into the fire. Of course he was young, and it occurred to me that perhaps he hadn’t experienced death before.
‘Tomorrow we will return to Hoelbrak, and you should share stories of your parent’s glory with Engar. I, myself, would be glad to hear them,’ I said softly.
Kesgir merely nodded, his eyes still fixed downwards. In the flickering firelight I saw a spark of emotion in his eyes, but the next moment he turned away. I sighed and laid down on my thin traveling mat and sleep swiftly took me.
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